Escorts typically lead their lives through a veil of mystery and secrets. Their lives are hidden from their families and exposed (sometimes literally) to everyone on the Internet. However, many escorts wish that general social attitudes and moral judgment would suspend and extend them acceptance and understanding. But in the real world, this will probably never be the case, unless things change drastically.
However, a voice for escorts is speaking out through a new documentary to be released in Summer 2013. “American Courtesans” is the brainchild of Kristen Di Angelo (a former escort) and James Johnson (whose wife is involved in the adult industry) and creates a realistic view of the underground world of the sex worker. Di Angelo said that the
trick to making this documentary would be to work within a framework that would never endanger ourselves or others and to find those women who we would be proud to speak for us.
The film reveals the innermost thoughts, fears and confessions of women who have worked in the industry, coming to it from all walks of life. It includes real, undramatized stories without the typical intentions to turn the film into a stereo-typed dimension that is consistent with society’s stigma against the adult entertainment service industry.
Many “documentaries” about the adult industry exist, but they often have conservative slants that lean toward moral judgment or suggestion of exploitation. They adhere to general beliefs that escorts are pimped out by abusive, overbearing men who take all of their money and degrade them regularly, without allowing for other real details to be revealed. “American Courtesans” is different:
- The film was conceived and developed by a former escort. Kristen Di Angelo, former escort, courtesan, writer and entrepreneur, was filming content at an S/M club for an online adult site she worked for when she began to explore the concept of opening up the world of the American escort. As she realized how many of her film crew members were newbies to the world of S/M, she started to comprehend how elusive the world of escorting is for the rest of society, too. Having worked in the sex industry since her teens, Di Angelo realized that working as an escort was something she should embrace from her past. She also discovered through conversations with her best friend that escorts have been taught over the years to keep their secrets and avoid talking about them at all costs. But, she realized that by staying quiet, escorts continue to accept degrading treatment from society, instead of vocalizing they are happy, content and proud of who they are. Di Angelo says on the film’s site that the documentary is an “intimate portrayal of modern day escorts in America. In our own words, we discuss our lives, the events that led us into the profession and the reasons why we stay.”
- Real escorts tell their uncensored stories. In the media, most directors and producers are required to adhere to a “script” of sorts that is approved by general society to continue to tell the stereotypical stories of young women being exploited by the sex industry, abused by clients, involved in drug use and destined for an unrecoverable downward spiral into mental illness, depression and low self-worth. But “American Courtesans” does not follow that same standard. Real life courtesans reveal how they came to the industry and why they stayed (or didn’t). True stories are told without edits for propriety or acceptance. Escorts reveal positive, uplifting experiences, and some share heart-breaking tragedies. But, none of them demonstrate the stereotypes that media likes to portray. The escorts involved with the film include:
- Emma Dupree
- Erin Marxxx
- Gina Robinson
- Gina De Palma
- Hilary Holiday
- Juliet Capulet
- Kristen Di Angelo
- Pearl Callahan
- Tamsen Crown
- Norma Jean Almodovar
- Skylar Cruz
- The film included input from a well-respected sex worker advocate. Most film attempts to reveal the underworld of the escort industry produce seedy footage with sketchy looking men and women engaging in what is supposed to be the planning stages of encounters. They focus on the exploitation of women and the abuse they receive. But, “American Courtesans” has the stamp of approval and input from notorious sex worker advocate Norma Jean Almodovar. She was one of the first female cops serving with the LAPD and spent 10 years on the force, leaving in 1982 after seeing numerous instances of police corruption. Afterward, she started working as a high-end call girl, got arrested through a police sting for pandering, served her time and published a controversial book called Cop to Call Girl. She stated that she started working as an escort to make a social statement. She said the police get very excited to arrest a woman for selling what she can legally give away for free, in the name of stopping the exploitation of otherwise innocent women. However, she said that by arresting these women the police claimed they were saving, society is labeling ladies with an arrest record for prostitution for the rest of their lives. She said it was hypocritical, especially with her knowledge of how society overlooks the degree of police corruption associated with the police force. Almodovar eventually became the founder of International Sex Worker Foundation for Art, Culture and Education (ISWFACE) and is the executive director for the Los Angeles branch of COYOTE. She has appeared on numerous talk shows, been interviewed in news casts and lectured at locations throughout the U.S. She is a constant voice for sex worker rights and values, along with being a contributor for this film.
- The film is a quality production. Industry experts worked together to make “American Courtesans” the “real deal,” not only in the testimony and content provided by the escorts, but also by the production quality created by professionals. Bobby R. Poirer served as editor and has titles to his credit from working on films with prevalent production companies including: Lionsgate, Overture Films, United Artists, Warner Brothers, Turner Original Productions, Discovery Channel, History Channel and National Geographic. He has worked with several famous directors including Oliver Stone, Wes Craven and Tyler Perry. Laleh Soomekh worked as the director of photography, and she was named one of the top 25 filmmakers to watch for by Filmmakers Magazine shortly after she graduated from Stanford University. She currently shoots for PBS, NBC, VH1, CMT and TLC. The film also benefits from several other crew members who helped create images, sounds and scenes that are professional and engaging.
- The film has received invitations for screening at several independent film festivals. To be screened at film festivals, a committee must review a film and rate its content, storyline and message. Most festivals have limited number of slots available for the films they permit, so it’s an outstanding accomplishment when a film is selected. The Miami-based Women’s International Film and Arts Festival selected the film for its March event. The directors of the festival believe the images of women on film directly affect the perception of women and how they are treated and valued in society. They try to provide a platform for women’s voices to be heard, presenting a wider range of roles and identity choices for women. Also selected for screening at the Sacramento International Film Festival, the European Independent Film Festival and the Bloody Hero International Film Festival, the film is surrounded by a lot of excitement and anticipation for its edgy content and unique perspective.
- Great reviews don’t lie. Through its multiple screenings, viewers have received the film with positive reviews and impressions. Here are some examples:
- “The aesthetics were truly stunning. And the editing was equally impressive. There was a clear narrative of the women’s lives and clear themes without feeling preachy or heavy handed. These are elements that I hardly noticed before working with Anonymous Heels, but I truly appreciate the amount of work and thought that went into those decisions. The end product is beautiful and sets a new standard for the production of sex work media…These women are truly gorgeous on top of being intelligent, courageous, and compassionate. Not that it’s an important factor, but that’s a message that came across loud and clear.” — Anonymous Heels Productions (A company of sex workers making media about sex work and committed to letting those in the sex trade have control over their own stories).
- “Exciting, pivotal, and erotic, American Courtesans defines a new age in documentary film making. Colorful visuals, imaginative sets, and taboo topics are brought forward in a way that will leave you wanting more.” — 411mania.com
- “It’s very clear that a dialogue about sex work – who’s doing it, how it works, how we feel about it as workers – that dialogue is sorely missing from the public conversation. I really think “American Courtesans” is trying to break into that dialogue in a way that’s really beautiful. It’s a humanizing project which is step one for all of us. I was thrilled to see it, and to see all those voices, and to see the real voices and the fact that they weren’t afraid to talk about trauma. I really admired it a lot.” — Vanessa, Sex Workers Outreach Project, Los Angeles
- “What «American Courtesans» does, and does powerfully, is offer an intimate perspective into the lives of its subjects, giving them a space to talk about their lives and work. The women share stories of both triumph and trauma, showing that there is no single or simple story about work in the sex industries. With exceptional production quality and sincere, candid interviews, “American Courtesans” moves us further towards changing the popular conceptions of sex work.” — Jessie Nicole, Tits and Sass
- The film fights current stereotypes. Although it demonstrates through some escort stories that bad things do happen to escorts, it also provides insight that professional companions are people just like everyone else. They shop for groceries, have families and enjoy life. They are not all nymphomaniacs, mentally ill or drug addicted. The escorts share their personal stories of how they got into the industry, which are not the traditional exploitive tales told by mainstream media and politicians. The film opens up the world of escorting to reveal that women who work in this field are normal, intelligent ladies who found their niche in a not-so-traditional career.
- Escorts gain a collective voice from the film. Hoping to go mainstream eventually, the makers of the documentary attempted to demonstrate that escorts may be from different walks of life, provide different services to clients and maintain unique lifestyles, but that when they bond together with a general message, they can have a powerful, impactful voice. Many reviews express, repeatedly, that the film is encouraging by demonstrating that escorts can be a politically-strong group when they band together, fighting for the same causes. The film’s website states that the film gives “women of the evening” a voice, and sex worker advocates across the United States are hopeful that it causes a stir among society’s hard-wired perceptions of the industry.
- “American Courtesans” share voices of more than just escorts. While the stories of the escorts are quite powerful, they are accentuated and enlightened by the voices of family members (siblings, parents and children), partners and clients. These other individuals included in the film share their eventual acceptance of the escorts they love and their disappointment and heartbreak at the stigma and challenges they face due to society’s judgment. They support their escorts and share their innermost thoughts and feelings about the industry and their contact with it. It’s great insight for any escort who is considering opening up her secret world to her loved ones.
- The film is not your typical documentary. If you think of the 9th grade science documentaries you had to watch in school or the boring descriptions provided by baritone-voiced narrators, you are in for a surprise with “American Courtesans.” Racy images, graphic stories and sexual content is included, but it’s the stories shared by escorts that will keep you riveted to the movie. It’s entertaining, enlightening and will help you realize you are not alone in the industry.